The Democratization of the Arts and the death of the Middleman

It’s been coming for a long time, but 2012 may be the year that the shift goes mainstream. I refer, of course, to the shift in business model for the popular arts. In the olden days, if you wanted to be a writer, musician, cartoonist, filmmaker, animator or other such artist/entertainer, the first thing you had to do was find a middleman; a publisher, record label, producer, studio, somebody to pick up the enormous costs of production and allow you to create your work.

That is no longer the case. As Louis CK recently demonstrated, the democratization of the arts is here now. The mainstream is beginning to understand that you don’t have to look to the big networks and studios to find good content anymore.

I spoke with Tom Chapin about this a while back. He told me, “the music industry has been totally transformed. When I started, if you wanted to record, it was on 2″ tape, 24 tracks, and it cost $225 for a roll of tape that weighed 50 pounds, and you needed 15 of those for an album. And you needed a machine that cost thirty or forty thousand dollars; to outfit a studio cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yet there were lots of studios all through New York. In my recording lifetime, which has been almost 50 years now, I’ve watched those studios die, and the technology get so that some kid with Garageband can actually make a pretty good tape. For around a thousand dollars, or even less than that, you get the technology to make really good digital recordings. That has had immense ramifications in terms of what’s going on.”

The production end of the process has been changing dramatically for years, beginning with the “desktop revolution” of the late 1980s, and has now grown to include digital tools to produce everything from feature films to comic books. For several years, M-Audio (a division of Avid) has promoted their digital audio interfaces, keyboards, and software packages with the theme that production is now in your hands, you can record and edit anywhere, and your recording studio now fits in a backpack. But production is only part of the story.

It’s only been comparatively recently that the tools for mainstream distribution were also in the hands of the artist. As Nicholas Carr explained in 2006, the dominant model for Web 2.0 was “Digital Sharecropping,” in which the economic rewards for creativity were concentrated in the same few corporate hands. CopyBlogger expands upon this concept, expertly articulating the problems of putting your work in the hands of corporate overlords who may not have your best interests at heart.

But now the landscape is changing again. More and more people are figuring out that distribution channels exist for the independent artist/entrepreneur, and for comparatively little money, anyone can get their music up on iTunes, their book distributed on Amazon, or their film available everywhere. Companies such as CDBaby, Orchard, Tunecore, Lulu, Blurb, Ka-Blam, FilmBaby and ipEXview (among many others) will handle the distribution, manufacturing and fulfillment aspects of an artist’s business for a very reasonable cost, usually under $100, and sometimes for a percentage on the back end. For handcrafted art, there’s Etsy and DeviantArt. For printed t-shirts and other merchandise, there’s Zazzle, CafePress, Printfection and others. A quick trip to your favorite search engine will most likely find a manufacture-on-demand distribution solution for virtually any category of art or media.

With production and distribution now in the hands of the artist, the only part left is promotion. The sad fact is that 80-90% of the work available on all the aforementioned sites will never be seen by more than a few people, usually just friends and family of the artist. Only a very few things ever go “viral” to any degree. Tom Chapin explains, “the downside is, there’s a lot of possibilities but there’s no path, there’s no prescribed path. My daughters, the Chapin Sisters, for as well as they sing, and write, and their history, if this were 30 years ago, they would have a big record contract, and there would be a company who would be working hard to make them happen. But now it’s really got to be them, doing it themselves.”

This is the point: there has never been a better time to be an independent artist in any field. The gatekeepers are gone, the barriers to entry are down. Instead of spending years trying to get a record deal or sell a pitch to a publisher, producer or studio, you can just get to work on actually creating your project, and instead of having to raise $50,000 to $50 million to make your comic/book/movie/record, you can do it on your Mac for the cost of the software and your time. You can, in the words of Nike, just do it.

It’s possible to create, produce, distribute and promote your own song/comic/novel/movie/cartoon/t-shirt/concert/widget, but the truth is, very few people have all the necessary skill-sets required to do so effectively. Many artists are lousy salesmen, and even if they can do it, it’s not the best use of their time. Most people would rather concentrate on making their art than on selling it. If you’re taking the time to learn how to build your own website, that’s time you’re not spending on your art.

That’s where Lancer Creative Services can help. We really try not to do a “hard sell”. We post interesting articles and information on our Facebook page and share the projects we’re working on. We like to tell you about the businesses our friends have started. We are trying to follow the advice we share with all of you and we’re also trying to grow OUR business. We truly enjoy promoting our friends and clients services and nothing would make us happier than to see your hard work pay off; to see your business prosper. We still feel a little awkward sometimes asking for your business, but whether you need assistance in the production area or in packaging & promotion, we can help. Logo designs, packaging, websites, brochures, ads, whatever you need, we can do it. We do it working closely with you, listening to you, to put forward exactly the image and message that you want to put out there. And we do it on a budget. If you’re an entrepreneur, or an artist, or an artist-entrepreneur, and we can help you get your project off the ground, we hope you’ll give us a call and give us your business.

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One Response to The Democratization of the Arts and the death of the Middleman

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